Tales of a Southern Gent leaving everything behind to teach English in Seoul, South Korea.
Carpe Diem. Carpe Omnia.
For those of you interested in coming to Seoul to learn Korean this summer… =D
Reblogged from ohtguhree
my uncle left this comment on his friend’s Facebook status, a white British man who was bragging about how easy it is to be a native English speaker when trekking to different nations. (via maarnayeri)
An incredibly eye-opening piece for both expats and non-expats.
This should be especially eye-opening for expats, actually, especially if you think about this from not just your point-of-view as an expat, but also from the points-of-view of expats from other countries. In particular, even try to think about natives in your current host country who have lived abroad, your native friends in particular — they’re expats too, expats who are now home after living and changing abroad. Try to put yourself in their shoes… What must life be like for them now that they’re back home? How similarly will your life mirror theirs once you return to your home country?
I know that I, for one, have changed drastically in the 20 months that I’ve been here in South Korea, and, thanks to this article, now I can see, understand, and appreciate how drastically those around me have or must have changed during their tenures as expats away from their respective home countries. As a staunch science person, I’ve always prided myself on being able to see things from every angle, so this makes me feel quite guilty, insensitive, and even a little bigoted that I never came to such a realization before, but better late than never. Just motivates me to keep learning, exploring, bettering myself, listening to others, and opening my mind to everything around me.
A very dependable feature of people who live abroad is finding them huddled together in bars and restaurants, talking not just about their homelands, but about the experience of leaving. And strangely enough, these groups of ex-pats aren’t necessarily all from the same home countries, often the mere experience of trading lands and cultures is enough to link them together and build the foundations of a friendship. I knew a decent amount of ex pats — of varying lengths of stay — back in America, and it’s reassuring to see that here in Europe, the “foreigner” bars are just as prevalent and filled with the same warm, nostalgic chatter.
But one thing that undoubtedly exists between all of us, something that lingers unspoken at all of our gatherings, is fear. There is a palpable fear to living in a new country, and though it is more acute in the first months, even year, of your stay, it never completely evaporates as time goes on. It simply changes. The anxiousness that was once concentrated on how you’re going to make new friends, adjust, and master the nuances of the language has become the repeated question “What am I missing?” As you settle into your new life and country, as time passes and becomes less a question of how long you’ve been here and more one of how long you’ve been gone, you realize that life back home has gone on without you. People have grown up, they’ve moved, they’ve married, they’ve become completely different people — and so have you.
It’s hard to deny that the act of living in another country, in another language, fundamentally changes you. Different parts of your personality sort of float to the top, and you take on qualities, mannerisms, and opinions that define the new people around you. And there’s nothing wrong with that; it’s often part of the reason you left in the first place. You wanted to evolve, to change something, to put yourself in an uncomfortable new situation that would force you to into a new phase of your life.
So many of us, when we leave our home countries, want to escape ourselves. We build up enormous webs of people, of bars and coffee shops, of arguments and exes and the same five places over and over again, from which we feel we can’t break free. There are just too many bridges that have been burned, or love that has turned sour and ugly, or restaurants at which you’ve eaten everything on the menu at least ten times — the only way to escape and to wipe your slate clean is to go somewhere where no one knows who you were, and no one is going to ask. And while it’s enormously refreshing and exhilarating to feel like you can be anyone you want to be and come without the baggage of your past, you realize just how much of “you” was based more on geographic location than anything else.
Walking streets alone and eating dinner at tables for one — maybe with a book, maybe not — you’re left alone for hours, days on end with nothing but your own thoughts. You start talking to yourself, asking yourself questions and answering them, and taking in the day’s activities with a slowness and an appreciation that you’ve never before even attempted. Even just going to the grocery store — when in an exciting new place, when all by yourself, when in a new language — is a thrilling activity. And having to start from zero and rebuild everything, having to re-learn how to live and carry out every day activities like a child, fundamentally alters you. Yes, the country and its people will have their own effect on who you are and what you think, but few things are more profound than just starting over with the basics and relying on yourself to build a life again. I have yet to meet a person who I didn’t find calmed by the experience. There is a certain amount of comfort and confidence that you gain with yourself when you go to this new place and start all over again, and a knowledge that — come what may in the rest of your life — you were capable of taking that leap and landing softly at least once.
But there are the fears. And yes, life has gone on without you. And the longer you stay in your new home, the more profound those changes will become. Holidays, birthdays, weddings — every event that you miss suddenly becomes a tick mark on an endless ream of paper. One day, you simply look back and realize that so much has happened in your absence, that so much has changed. You find it harder and harder to start conversations with people who used to be some of your best friends, and in-jokes become increasingly foreign — you have become an outsider. There are those who stay so long that they can never go back. We all meet the ex-pat who has been in his new home for 30 years and who seems to have almost replaced the missed years spent back in his homeland with full, passionate immersion into his new country. Yes, technically they are immigrants. Technically their birth certificate would place them in a different part of the world. But it’s undeniable that whatever life they left back home, they could never pick up all the pieces to. That old person is gone, and you realize that every day, you come a tiny bit closer to becoming that person yourself — even if you don’t want to.
So you look at your life, and the two countries that hold it, and realize that you are now two distinct people. As much as your countries represent and fulfill different parts of you and what you enjoy about life, as much as you have formed unbreakable bonds with people you love in both places, as much as you feel truly at home in either one, so you are divided in two. For the rest of your life, or at least it feels this way, you will spend your time in one naggingly longing for the other, and waiting until you can get back for at least a few weeks and dive back into the person you were back there. It takes so much to carve out a new life for yourself somewhere new, and it can’t die simply because you’ve moved over a few time zones. The people that took you into their country and became your new family, they aren’t going to mean any less to you when you’re far away.
When you live abroad, you realize that, no matter where you are, you will always be an ex-pat. There will always be a part of you that is far away from its home and is lying dormant until it can breathe and live in full color back in the country where it belongs. To live in a new place is a beautiful, thrilling thing, and it can show you that you can be whoever you want — on your own terms. It can give you the gift of freedom, of new beginnings, of curiosity and excitement. But to start over, to get on that plane, doesn’t come without a price. You cannot be in two places at once, and from now on, you will always lay awake on certain nights and think of all the things you’re missing out on back home.
May 1st here in Korea, as of roughly three hours ago. =D
Reblogged from itsanasta
Even though I’m a 22 year old female, I think I understand what a middle aged impotent male feels like. I’m not talking about my inability to get an erection, but rather that feeling of frustration that comes with trying to get it on, but failing.
I’ve always had an idea of what I needed to do and what I would do for the first 21 years, a feeling shared by most recent graduates. Up until graduation, life had been meticulously scripted: Finish elementary school. Finish middle school. Work hard in high school. Ace standardized exams. Volunteer. Be the teenage leader. Get into a good college. Graduate. While I felt like I had more and more autonomy (I can choose my classes! I can choose my major!), that autonomy was just an illusion. I was set on this guided track where I couldn’t choose where it led, I could just choose the color of my little car that would take me there. The end goal was not my choice; it was just what was expected of me. If I tried to do anything other than college after high school, my parents probably would have disowned me for good. As a result of these expectations, other people somehow saw me as an ambitious, driven, goal-oriented young person, even if it was by no choice of mine. But at the very least, there was some sort of promise of happiness and attainment at the end.
Most of what I’m good at has very little application to the “real” world. Up until now, I’d been judged by standardized tests, essays, and other arbitrary metrics that have been imposed on me. I realized that the draw of going through the investment banking or management consulting interview processes is that both are very similar to applying to colleges: You’re told if accepted, you will be among the most elite, prestigious, and cream of the crop. You’re given a battery of standardized tests. You’re interviewed. You’re then either accepted or rejected. You sneer or pity those who didn’t get into the top firms and just had to settle. Since for most of our lives, we’d excelled at this, why not continue on with this sort of measurement of success? And for once, I’m free of all of the random numbers assigned to me to tell me how well I did. I’m free to choose how to measure my own “success”, but it’s sent me into a mental free fall.
As I whiled away my time at the “elite” undergraduate institution I was expected to attend, my feeling of impotence started to grow. Sure, I knew I needed to graduate but that seemed to me like it was going to be a given. Work hard, don’t die of alcohol poisoning, and I’d get my degree. As much as I try to give off the impression of being spontaneous, I’m actually, deep down, a planner who tries to think a few steps ahead. As my friend Nikki once put it, “If Asta gives you an odd, yet almost normal request, you have to think ahead to realize what she really wants to do. I guarantee it will not be for any conventional purposes.” She was right. I asked to use her dishwasher, but to wash my hockey gear. My “spontaneity” is the result of not wanting to seem like a failed planner. If I’m random enough, maybe people will think that I’ll take off at a moment’s notice or do “random” things just because that’s how I am, not because I’m someone who has no inkling of what comes next or what I want to do.
All the inspirational platitudes always assume that everyone reading them is unhappy because they have some grand dream they have yet to realize. But what about those of us who have the underlying drive and ability but not the dream? Are we to be cast aside? Are we to be shunned from the tantalizing goal of some nebulous happy nirvana? Are we to be denied our happy ending?
This impotence is starting to consume my thinking. I want to do something, I know I could, but I can’t because I have no idea what this amazing something is. As I teeter on this precipice where I have to determine what ending I want to achieve, I wish that there was Viagra, for an impotence of an even more personal kind.
A good childhood/family friend of mine very simply and eloquently states exactly what I’ve been feeling for the last 5 years or so, ever since I made the incredibly difficult choice to tear away from the premed track, at the END of my junior year — and AFTER completing all requirements and dedicating most of my high school and college careers to it…
We’re both in Asia now, me teaching English at a public school in Seoul, while she’s working as a college application consultant in Hong Kong. Both our siblings are in or going into high-salary jobs in the finance sector, and, while both of us are passionate and intelligent and driven, we are both also directionless.
What a plight…
Post-MT Dinner at Outback
Post-MT Dinner at Outback
Deliciously colorful fruit-ades.